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The Art of People Pleasing

October 6, 2021

by Malia Sawyer

I grew up in the era before “everyone gets a trophy.” I received an award or recognition if I worked hard to become the very best. Then, and only then, did my parents express how proud they were. In my family, you were either the best at what you were doing or you didn’t waste anyone’s time with that pursuit. My personality is already bent towards performance, perfectionism, and people pleasing. That environment helped that tendency grow deeper. Later, I became a mom. And, wow! I had heard about the “Mommy Wars,” but I did not realize how real they were until I bottle-fed my son in public for the first time. After months of effort and tears, I still wasn’t able to produce milk for my baby. While giving my son a bottle of formula at church, a well-intended woman saw and approached me to list a multitude of reasons why I was damaging my son by not breastfeeding. I was devastated.

Those are just two isolated situations to demonstrate the way I internalized the world around me and how my need to gain the approval and acceptance of others affected me. If necessary, I hid whatever might have conflicted with what others believed. My knee-jerk reaction was to keep the peace; to try to please everyone and go around conflict instead of through it. Sometimes I would even try to filter my husband if I thought he might ruffle some feathers. The result was short-term and shallow friendships, because I’d rather walk away than deal with conflict. I decided people’s dislike and disapproval of me without merit, and lived in constant stress over whether I said or did the wrong thing.

These last few years, I felt led to take stock of my motives. I spent some time asking the Lord to reveal the parts of me that are inconsistent with who He says I am. This need to please others, so that I feel safe, became incredibly apparent. To be clear, I don’t think putting others’ needs first is negative, it is actually how Jesus lived and wants us to live; but the problem is when we cross into the need for people’s approval over Christ’s approval. That’s when our compass requires recalibration.

Identifying that I was too deeply motivated by others’ opinions wasn’t what fixed things, though it was a start. What changed everything was getting to the source of the narrative I had believed about who I was. I was able to walk in freedom once I put my identity in who God says I am; as I believed that He created me with certain personality traits and giftings, and chose me. I now love that I am so motivated to serve others, I will even go the extra step to make people happy.

When the motivation of my heart is to serve the Father, the pressure is removed. When I am motivated to live faithfully to what He has called me, I am able to live from a place of rest and my friends are also refreshed. When I am free to be exactly who God created me to be, I add more value to my relationships. As I let go of insecurities and the desire to be liked, my relationships go so much deeper. Here is what I have found most rewarding: when I live my life in pursuit of pleasing the Father first, my life is pleasing to those around me as well. I know that as I first love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), then I am free to best love others.

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